By Alex Bridges
FRONT ROYAL - Federal environmental rules mean steep rate increases for town water and sewer customers.
The town may hold the line on raising connection fees that some leaders argue could drive away business.
Town Council met Monday for a work session where they reached a consensus on rates for certain utilities Front Royal could advertise for the required public hearing. Under the proposed amendment to the town ordinance, water rates would increase by 23.5 percent while sewer would rise by 20 percent. Adoption of the rates and fees comes in conjunction with the budget for fiscal year 2014.
The town plans to hold the public hearing on the rates on May 28.
As town officials and council have noted - and stated in the resolution to adopt the new rates - Front Royal must increase the levies in order to pay for upgrades to its water treatment and wastewater treatment plants. Such upgrades are mandated to reduce the amount of nutrients released into tributaries that ultimately lead to the Chesapeake Bay. Likewise, the town must reduce the amount of by-products created in the disinfectant process used to treat drinking water.
All mandates come from federal agencies.
Under the proposal, Front Royal would charge $25.03 per month for both water and sewer up to 3,000 gallons. Customers would pay $101.80 per month for both utilities up to 7,000 gallons, according to information from the town.
The town also proposes to increase trash collection charges by $1 per month for 32-gallon cans, $1.75 for 96-gallon cans, and $10 per month for 8-cubic-yard Dumpsters.
Even with the increase, Front Royal would still charge less for water and sewer than many other area providers.
At the request of Councilman Eugene R. Tewalt, staff prepared charts that showed proposed water and sewer rates among providers in the Northern Shenandoah Valley and some comparable jurisdictions outside the region.
Town Manager Steven M. Burke explained that Front Royal would remain the second-lowest among the municipal water and sewer providers with respect to rates charged for using up to 3,000 gallons per month. Front Royal remains the fifth-lowest among the providers with rates charged for using up to 7,000 gallons per month. Figures provided combined water and sewer rates.
Burke told council the municipalities whose rates compare to Front Royal's also have recently completed or are in the process of upgrading water and/or wastewater treatment plants.
By comparison, Woodstock ranks highest among the providers. The town will charge $77.93 for using 3,000 gallons each of water and sewer per month. The rate for 7,000 gallons for both utilities will be $147.89, according to the information from Front Royal. Strasburg's rates for 3,000 gallons are projected to increase to $62.73 per month for both water and sewer; and to $147.85 for 7,000 gallons.
A recommendation to increase the connection fees for pipes of all sizes met with some opposition by council at an earlier work session. Staff returned Monday with a modified recommendation that keeps fees for the 3/4-inch and 1-inch water and sewer connections at the level set last spring.
Fees remain at $9,750 and $21,938 for the ¾-inch and 1-inch pipes respectively. However, fees to connect with the larger sizes increase under the proposal.
Burke noted that staff changed the recommendation in consideration of the opportunity for new home construction in town. Some council members voiced concern that increasing the fees for the two more-popular sizes of pipes used in residential buildings would hurt and likely drive away potential construction.
The town ranks low in terms of connection fees and would remain the fifth-lowest in the valley, Burke said, under the proposed rates.
In response to a question from Councilman Bret W. Hrbek, Burke acknowledged that the cost to connect to the town's water and sewer systems would cost a homeowner less than installing septic and wells on a property. Burke explained that most properties left in Warren County are not suited to conventional septic systems and sites require more costly, alternative systems. Burke concurred that it likely would cost approximately $25,000 in the county compared to around $17,000 to connect to the town.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org